Drowsy driving is a serious highway safety issue in the United States. Unlike other risky driving behaviors (distracted driving) —like drinking and driving or texting while driving—the vast majority of us are probably guilty of driving when we’re low on sleep and feeling the exhaustion of a long day. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates—conservatively—that drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths.
While drowsy driving is certainly a concern for everyone, combating its prevalence was recently the subject of targeted government action: in December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a new rule aimed at making sure truck drivers get the rest they need to operate safely. The rule comes after an extensive period of scientific study, analysis and opportunity for public comment. According to the FMCSA press release announcing it, the rule “will help prevent fatigue-related truck crashes and save lives.”
The new rule revises what is known as the “hours-of-service” safety requirements for commercial truck drivers. Under the previous rule, truckers used to be able to work up to 82 hours over a seven day period—an average of nearly 12 hours a day. Now, that limit is 70 hours over the course of seven days—still a very long day, but an improvement over the old rule.
Recognizing the long hours that truck drivers typically work—and the constant pressure to log more miles—the rule also puts additional protections in place to make sure drivers are well rested. For example, truck drivers cannot drive after working 8 consecutive hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes. And drivers who max out their weekly work hours are subject to the “34-hour restart” provision—after working 70 hours in one seven day stretch, drivers have to take at least 34 hours off. During that time, they must get at least two nights of rest when the body most demands it—between the hours of 1 am and 5 am.
As Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated when announcing the new rule, “trucking is a difficult job, and a big rig can be deadly when a driver is tired and overworked.” Hopefully this new rule that goes into effect in July will translate into better workplace safety for the tens of thousands of truck drivers in our country and better highway safety for all of us.